Heston's performance conjures memories of so many near-misses by New York pitchers
By Marty Noble
NEW YORK -- The names live on in Mets history, even now, three years and a week after Johan Santana eliminated that perplexing double negative -- no no-no -- from the resume of a franchise steeped in pitching lore. Leron Lee, Mike Compton, Chin-hui Tsao, Kit Pellow and Paul Hoover. Each was a professional party pooper. Each was responsible for the one hit in a Mets one-hitter; or, put another way, each denied the Mets a no-hitter.
Each was a big league no-name, a relative unknown.
Even Jimmy Qualls, the Cubs guy responsible for the "Im" in Tom Seaver's Imperfect Game 46 years ago, hardly is known outside this city and Chicago. He is infamous here for his ninth-inning single, identified as a "sin" by multitudes of New York baseball watchers. Because Seaver was Seaver, Qualls remains the most famous of the unknowns, the most widely recognized of the no-name batters who made Mets pitchers one-hit wonders until Santana.
And now, a variation on that theme has occured. A relative unknown -- one Chris Heston -- threw a no-hitter at the Mets on Tuesday night. No runs, no hits, no errors, no walks. No name. No kidding. All that separated the Giants' 27-year-old right-handed rookie from perfection was three hit batsman, the most ever in a no-hitter. If not for the ignominy involved, the Mets might have considered this one a three-hitter.
Give Heston credit for pitching well, for dominating the Mets at times -- he struck out 11 -- and for splendid timing. The compromised lineup he faced hardly constituted a daunting challenge, even for a pitcher with such limited experience, and not much of that recent experience was particularly positive. Heston had surrendered at least five runs and pitched fewer than six innings in three of his previous four starts.
But in his 13th big league start, Heston did what two fellow Giants starters -- Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum -- had done three times beginning on June 13, 2012. The Giants have pitched a no-hitter in four consecutive seasons now. They're kinda rubbing it in on the Mets, don't ya think? They have thrown 17 no-hitters in their history, nine of them after the Mets' birth in 1962 and now two of those nine against the Mets.
Ed Halicki threw one against the Mets at Candlestick Park in 1975. Rusty Staub still believes his ground ball in the fifth inning, scored an error on second baseman Derrel Thomas, was a hit. He is not alone in that thinking.
The Giants' fifth no-hitter in a period of seven seasons -- no other franchise has more than three in that time -- was against a batting order all but without a formidable stick. No David Wright, no Daniel Murphy, no Travis d'Arnaud. No chance? Well, not much of one.
The Mets never came particularly close in this one. Their swings put the baseball beyond the infield in fair territory merely twice -- once in the second inning and again in the seventh. The first instance, with Wilmer Flores batting, produced a popup behind second base; the second, with Mike Cuddyer swinging, pushed a fly ball to right field.
The other 25 outs were ground balls and strikeouts. Heston faced 29 batters -- Cuddyer hit into a double play in the fourth inning after Heston had hit Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda. He threw 110 pitches, 72 for strikes. Nineteen of that total were thrown in the ninth, when Heston hit Anthony Recker and then struck out pinch-hitter Danny Muno, Curtis Granderson and Tejada, all on called third strikes.
It was the at-bat Muno had with three outs needed that might have struck those with a perverse sense of Mets history. The at-bat was his 20th in the big leagues, putting him in a class with Pellow, who denied Tom Glavine in 2004, Tsao (Steve Traschel, 2003) and Hoover (John Maine, 2007).
Of course, there were other party poopers of greater renown -- Tony Gwynn (David Cone, 1988), Ernie Banks (Gary Gentry, 1970) and Roberto Clemente (Gentry, 1971); each came to have Hall of Fame credentials. Jeff Kent won the National League MVP Award in 2000, the year he denied Bobby Jones a no-hitter in the NL Division Series.
But for the most part, the finest efforts by the Mets' starting pitchers were undone by unknowns, or players who were unknown when they denied the Seavers, Matlacks and Dickeys. Or they were, at best, unlikelies. Jon Matlack's second one-hitter, in 1974, was denied by John Curtis of the Cardinals. Curtis was a pitcher. So too was Jack Hamilton denied by a pitcher, Ray Sadecki of the Cardinals, in 1966. Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels produced the only hit in one of the three one-hitters R.A. Dickey pitched in 2010 and '12.
For decades, it was standard operating procedure for Mets pitchers to endure "no cigar" experiences -- until Santana, with help from third-base umpire Adrian Johnson, pitched his no-no on June 1, 2012 -- and to have those near no-hitters thwarted by players many Mets couldn't identify.
Santana smoked a cigar after his no-hitter. He puffed a few zeroes after throwing 27 of them. The Cardinals, of course, were aware of the former American League Cy Young Award winner long before that night at the Big Citi. And now the Mets are quite aware of Chris Heston, no longer a relative unknown.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.